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Workshops to explain how to build homes that withstand winds

PORT CLINTON - As the owners of homes and businesses damaged in last month's tornadoes rebuild, state and federal officials hope they'll consider making the new buildings more wind-resistant.

“We're basically encouraging them to take steps so if this happens again, they won't have the same amount of damage,” said Kevin Hardy, a loan specialist with the U.S. Small Business Administration. “And it's to protect them and their families.”

Mr. Hardy has spent the past week-and-a-half working out of a basement office in the Ottawa County courthouse, helping Port Clinton-area residents apply for federal disaster aid.

“I find that a lot of people come in and they're very interested in what they can do to prevent this from happening again,” he said.

To help victims and other residents build sturdier structures, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Ohio Emergency Management Agency are sponsoring a series of workshops next week.

Sessions are planned from 1 to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Van Wert County Fairgrounds, 1055 South Washington St., Van Wert; from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Fostoria Municipal Court, 213 Main St., Fostoria, and from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday in the Ottawa County courthouse annex, 315 Madison St., Port Clinton.

Dick Kimmins, a spokesman for the Ohio EMA, said relatively inexpensive construction methods can provide extra protection against twisters and other wind storms.

Those options include foundation bolts, which bind the exterior walls to the foundation.

Another way to strengthen a structure is to add “hurricane straps,” metal bands that secure roof joists to the building's outer walls. Including the straps on a newly built house “adds very little cost and an extraordinary amount of strength and rigidity to the construction,” Mr. Kimmins said.

Russ Edmonston, a spokesman for FEMA, said the agency estimates that such wind-resistant features add between 1 percent and 3 percent to the cost of building a house.

Attendees at the seminars also will get information about building an in-home tornado shelter, or “safe room.” An interior bathroom, closet, or basement room can be reinforced and anchored to the house's foundation to give residents and visitors a place to go when severe storms approach.

Mr. Kimmins, who lives in the Columbus area, said he had such a room installed in his house when it was built several years ago.

“My ‘safe room' is a walk-in closet on the first floor,” he said. “We had our builder ... strengthen the ceiling of that particular room with some two-by-fours, some hurricane straps, and anchored it with some bolts into the floor joists.”

According to FEMA, including an 8-foot-by-8-foot safe room in a new home can range from $3,000 to $6,000, depending on the type of materials used.

In the Cincinnati suburb of Coletrain Township, officials built a park office with reinforced walls and other structural improvements to give park visitors a place to seek shelter from fast-moving storms. Numerous houses near Coletrain Park were destroyed by a tornado in 1990.

The park office, which includes a meeting room and restrooms, was built two years ago under FEMA guidelines, said Frank Birkenhauer, assistant township administrator.

The structure, which can shelter up to 100 people, has foot-wide concrete block, reinforced with steel rods. It has two roofs - a pitched wooden structure on top and a flat steel ceiling underneath that's bolted to the walls.

Mr. Birkenhauer said the building cost $215,000, including about $50,000 to meet the FEMA standards. The agency paid for 40 percent of construction; the township and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shared the rest.

The structure was designed to withstand an F4 tornado, with winds of 207 to 260 mph. The tornado that tore through Van Wert Nov. 10 was measured as an F4 storm.

“This is a structure that's usable 365 days a year, and it may be saving some lives in the process,” Mr. Birkenhauer said. “I think people thought it was well worth it.”

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